Boeing unveils Phantom Eye hydrogen-powered spy plane

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The hydrogen-powered Phantom Eye unmanned airborne system, a demonstrator that will stay aloft at 65,000 feet for up to four daysPhoto: AP/BOEING

The aircraft is designed for endurance reconnaissance missions, soaring at 65,000ft for up to four days.

The “green” vehicle’s two 2.3-litre Ford engines provide 150 horsepower each, allowing it to cruise at 150 knots without producing any harmful emissions.

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A demonstrator model will be shipped to Nasa’s Dryden Flight Research Centre in California later this summer where it undergo a series of ground tests.

On completion of the tests, its maiden flight is expected to take place in early 2011, when it will be put through its paces for up to eight hours.

Unveiling the plane in St Louis, Darryl Davis, president of Boeing Phantom Works, said: “Phantom Eye is the first of its kind and could open up a whole new market in collecting data and communications.

“It is a perfect example of turning an idea into a reality. It defines our rapid prototyping efforts and will demonstrate the art-of-the-possible when it comes to persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“The capabilities inherent in Phantom Eye’s design will offer game-changing opportunities for our military, civil and commercial customers.”

The aircraft can carry a pay load weighing up to 450lbs and has a 150ft wingspan – appearing out of proportion to its torpedo-shaped fuselage.

Its creators say it is not designed for stealth but for endurance, remaining airborne for long periods of time.

Boeing also boasted of the plane’s eco-friendly credentials.

“The hydrogen propulsion system will be the key to Phantom Eye’s success,” said Drew Mallow, Phantom Eye program manager. “It is very efficient and offers great fuel economy, and its only by-product is water, so it’s also a ‘green’ aircraft.”

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has an ongoing interest in long-endurance high-altitude planes for surveillance and is considering a several different technologies, including solar power, to meet the requirements of what it refers to as its “Scavenger project”.

The aerospace and defence company Qinetiq are carrying out trials in conjunction with the MoD to develop a solar powered plane called Zephyr.

A spokesperson for the MoD said: “Four days is very good but we are considering a range of options for our deep and persistent reconnaissance requirements.

“Some of these options could be airborne for over a week.”

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